On November 8, 2016, 53% of Arkansas voters approved a medical marijuana initiative. Issue 6, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016, will allow seriously ill patients to use and safely obtain medical marijuana with their doctors’ approval. The amendment will establish between four and eight cultivation facility licenses and up to 40 dispensaries, all of which will be regulated by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division. Under the law, home cultivation is not permitted.

Qualifying for the program: In order to register, patients must submit a written certification from an Arkansas-licensed physician certifying that they suffer from an applicable disease to the Department of Health. The department will also establish a “reasonable” application fee. Designated caregivers can enroll in the program to assist the physically disabled and minors under 18.

Qualifying conditions: Cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, Tourette’s syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, PTSD, severe arthritis, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer’s disease, or the treatment of any of these conditions qualify. In addition, patients with doctors’ certifications qualify if they have a chronic or debilitating medical condition (or its treatment) that produces cachexia or wasting syndrome, peripheral neuropathy, intractable pain that has not responded to other treatment for at least six months, severe nausea, seizures, and severe or persistent muscle spasms. The Department of Health has the power to approve new qualifying conditions.

Local control: Cities, towns, and counties may pass reasonable zoning restrictions on dispensaries and cultivation facilities. Localities can only outright prohibit the operation of any facilities through a popular election pursuant to Arkansas’ initiative process.

Limitations:

  • It would remain illegal for patients to use cannabis at a number of locations, including schools, daycare centers, drug or alcohol treatment facilities, youth centers, correctional facilities, or in public places.
  • It would remain illegal to operate a vehicle under the influence of cannabis.
  • It would remain illegal for any person who does not have a qualifying medical condition to use cannabis.
  • The act allows landlords to prohibit on-site cannabis smoking.

Taxes and revenue: Patients, caregivers, and cannabis facilities will pay registration fees to the Health Department. Cannabis will also be subject to all existing sales taxes. All sales tax revenues will be distributed as follows: 5% to the Department of Health, 2% to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration Division, 1% to the newly-established Medical Marijuana Commission, 10% to the Skill Development Fund, and 50% to the Vocational and Technical Training Special Revenue to the Health Department for costs of administering the program. Any leftover funds would be used to provide cannabis on a sliding scale to patients who are unable to afford a sufficient supply.

Timeline: While the amendment is effective immediately, patients are not permitted to possess medical cannabis unless they also have a registry card. The Health Department is required to adopt rules concerning the issuance of cards within 120 days of the amendment’s passage. The state also has 120 days to adopt rules concerning the licensing and regulation of dispensaries and cultivation facilities and shall begin accepting applications by June 1, 2017. MPP estimates that it could be up to a year before patients can start consuming medical cannabis under the program.